Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Singapore, 2nd class citizen in your own country

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Singapore is a very small country with a small population of some 3 million local born inhabitants. Any leader faced with a daunting challenge of making a country of such a tiny place would be able to appreciate it's limitations. For one, without any natural resources, he would have realised that it is the people who is his only asset, nothing else.

And if he had to progress, he would have done it at a pace it can sustain given it's limitations of size and small population, ever making sure that it should be the Singaporean in the driving seat of management, not some foreigner.

Today if you walk at any time during office hours in down town Singapore you see Caucasians in their ties, long sleeve white shirts looking formal and important under the burning midday sun, on all the walkways while local Singaporeans drool at them with envy on their good fortune. Not for a moment is anyone unsure as to who are the bosses, it is these foreign executives; not Singaporeans.

Had Lee Kuan Yew been honest, given these limitations, he would have ensured that their future country should be run by Singaporeans, not any foreigner; that Singaporeans should be have the necessary qualifications to run it, not any foreigner; and if they do not have it just yet, the country should wait until they are trained.

At all times any competent leader would have made sure that Singapore should be run and managed by Singaporeans, not by foreigners, and any expansion of the economy should be at a pace sustained by Singaporeans.

And most importantly the people should have an opportunity to have a voice in it's destiny. They should be allowed to speak without fear, to question without fear, and they should be told of decisions being made on their behalf and an opportunity to object if unhappy.

Singapore's dictator for the last 50 years, Lee Kuan Yew, appears to have missed the point by a mile. He expanded the economy without regard of who is in charge of it.

He expanded the financial sector and brought in boatloads of foreigners experienced in international business and banking to run the industry, while Singaporeans who did not have the skills are left working under these foreigners.

Of course the economy expanded and profits were being made but the ones responsible for this are not the under-skilled Singaporeans, it is the British bank executives with the skills Singaporeans do not have.

It is not only in the financial sector that these foreigners rule, it is also in the legal field and every other highly specialized field you can imagine.

You have today these foreigners who bring the expertise from their countries to Singapore temporarily to make a profit themselves. Singaporeans do not benefit at all from their temporary presence except collaterally.

As far as the Singaporean is concerned he is nothing but a spectator in this economy which has become far bigger than what it was supposed to be thanks to these foreigners.

Could someone have done it differently, I say yes. He would have understood that Singaporeans are the ones who should have the preference, not foreigners.

He would have realised that had there been democracy, the local Singaporean would have felt wanted and appreciated. His views would have been heard. There could have have been many others with a larger brain than the Lee Kuan Yew family with much brighter ideas for the country.

With collective thinking, instead of all thinking monopolized by the Lee Kuan Yew family, and every other challenger put in jail or bankrupted, who is to tell how far ahead Singapore would have gone instead of what it is now.

Had there been a minimum wage law and a social welfare net for the disadvantaged, Singaporeans would have remained in Singapore, rather than leaving the country. They would have had families and children.

A universal free education policy through tertiary stage, would have given everyone greater skills and ability to think and do better for the country, than the present population who do not even appear to know that there is such a thing as human rights.

Lee Kuan Yew could not see any of this.

What we have to day is a disjointed, incongruous and dysfunctional government and country. The economy depends on foreign workers both managerial and in every other sphere, and without them the island would collapse.

The areas of industry that matter most are in the hands of foreigners, while Singaporeans work under them in inferior positions. Singaporeans in this set up are never going to get the skills to run the show themselves.

Furthermore you have a dissatisfied, silenced population who are looking out to leave the country as soon as possible in disgust.

And every single Singaporean lives in fear of his government for what they can do to him if he dares protest.

These circumstances do not instill confidence in me. Of course the state controlled media in Singapore has an unlimited supply of confidence.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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Anonymous said...

Hi Gopalan Nair,

Nice thought, one thing you need to remember is that ur not a native singaporean,your parents would have migrated some 100 years from kerala and you talk the talk now, think that if americans start to agitating in usa stating only jobs be provided to native American,then where the yell you will go Mr Gopalan nair, don't stoop this low...

Gopalan Nair said...

To Anonymous March 18, 0446,
You miss the point. When my parents came from India to Singapore, there were no locals capable of doing anything. It was no more than a fishing village.

Today Singapore has locally qualified people perhaps not in suifficient numers or in the areas of specialization. That is why Singaporeans should be allowed to develop their skills instead of casting them aside compeletely as Lee does preferring foreigners.

As for my being in the USA, there are sufficiently qualified people in every sphere. I am not working as an attorney because I had taken any American's job.

The need to train and educate locals in Singapore is all the more important especially in a tiny place with a tiny population.

I am not sure how anyone is stooping like you say, low or otherwise.

I also see the need for you to remain anonymous especially if you are writing for the Singapore government.

mycroft said...

Well, Lee can see perfectly clearly the benefits of every single one of the points you make about investing in and nurturing local talent. He can also see the danger to his hegemony that a cohort of intelligent, questioning minds would pose. So he has spent his career assiduously crushing them as any self-respecting smart despot would do. LKY is no patriot. LKY is first and foremost about his brood, period. For all his pious Majulah Singapura speeches, he couldn't care less whether the nation has a native Singaporean intelligentsia or not.

As the Japanese nuclear disaster is showing us all too grimly, the first people to abandon ship will be the expatriates. That's natural because they are hired guns and they're only there for the money. Fortunately for the Japanese they take great pride in their own skills and so no great harm will be done if every last foreigner leaves the stage.

Not so Singapore where the short-sighted policies you highlight have led to a dearth of Singaporeans with the right expertise and with the right experience. They've all fled to less stifling political climes. If a similar level of crisis were ever to strike the nation e.g. loss of a substantial amount of its water supply, the brain drain would be crippling when the expats run for the hills.

I think Warren Buffett laughingly called it 'being caught swimming naked as the tide goes out'.

Anonymous said...

Without commenting on any particular action or lack thereof of LKY or PAP:

I can't agree with the idea that the financial, legal or other sectors would have been left to wait until the local workforce was trained/talented enough. What would they be have trainging with? Selling bananas and peanuts? And would that many higly trained corporate lawyers or stock traders have stayed to develop Singaporean markets when the options might have been the likes of Japan, the US, London, etc.? Ideally yes, but that's just what it is, an ideal. You yourself warned of brain outflow when the grass is greener on the other side.

It's good to import expertise when it's needed, but of course, great emphasise has to be put on educating the locals, so an economy isn't dependent on foreign labour. But no country can cocoon themselves relying only on domestic labour, you need to seek for the best. And in the best scenario the rest can learn from the best by working with them.